Back when my wife, Keri, and I first got married, like most newlyweds, we didn’t have any money, and when you don’t have any money, you take a ‘cheap vacation.’ You know, the kind when you tent camp and think that love is all you need and all will be ok. In hindsight, it was definitely cheap, but rarely did things go ok. There were storms, bugs, heat, humidity, close neighbors staying up way too late being loud, and the community bathrooms. Then, well, there’s that certain smell. You know, the scented mixture of forest and bathroom and campfire and mildew. There’s gotta be a candle for that.
So, there we were. Newly married and camping in the outback of West Virginia. The one thing we decided to spend what little money we had on…white water rafting. We were young, naïve, and thought this would be a good idea. Imagine the fun! Stories to tell the kids someday, we told ourselves.
So, we headed to the top of the river where you left on your journey down the rapids. 20+ years later, the little details are a bit fuzzy, but last thing I knew, we were in a 6 person vessel, and I was somehow placed in the front left with my beautiful bride sitting squarely behind me. The 4 other people in the boat were strangers, but we did our best to make friends with each one. I said “hello” counterclockwise until my gaze reached my side companion, the one that would be front right of the boat. I blinked twice as I thought for sure it was Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Jean Claude Van Damme, or some offspring of either or both of them. For before my eyes was a man easily twice my size and with more muscles than I cared to count (I may have tried, but caught myself staring a bit too long).
Immediately, my Man Card dropped into the river. I frowned as I watched it float away, hoping to find it again at the end of this journey.
“Umm, hello!” I said. “Your life jacket is pretty tight huh…ya, mine too…see?”
My 120-pound frame had chosen the small size and it was a bit loose, but hey, my new wife was right behind me, I had something to prove.
“Ya, wow, uh huh. Look at these rapids. Good thing I’ve been spending all that extra time in the gym. Whew, don’t worry about a thing, I’ve got this whole left side of the boat. You good over there? You got the right side, yes?”
Arnold grunted a smile and a hello, and off we went. The seventh person in the boat was our guide, likely a college student that needed to earn a bit of money and wanted to amuse herself with the funny antics of people who had never done this before. She sat in the back middle of the vessel and barked out orders so we would a) stay alive and b) have a good time at c) the same time. In the calm part of the river… you know, the section before all hell broke loose… she had us practice.
“Ok, to steer right, the left side picks up their oars and the right side paddles hard. To steer left, the right side picks up their oars and the left side paddles hard. Ok?”
“Ok!” we all said in unison.
“Ok, right!” The right side of the vessel, led by Jean Claude, paddled and the boat went right immediately. Like basically a 90-degree angle to the right. We all watched in awe as Muscles single handedly guided the boat to the right.
“Good!” came the encouragement from the guide. “Now left!” My side of the boat paddled with all our might…and the boat ever so slightly meandered and inched a skosh to the left.
“Umm, more left!” came the order. We complied and the boat slightly shifted a bit more to the left. “Ok, we’ll need to work on that.”
Around this same time, a faint but unmistakable noise started to make its way into our ears. Which caused all our hearts to start beating at an unmanageably high rate of speed as we knew we were descending upon the very thing in which we paid to come… the rapids.
“Ok, if you fall out, remain calm and swim back to the boat.”
Immediately my mind calculated all the ways in which that wasn’t going to be possible. In my purview was the most violent, loud, treacherous rapids I’d ever seen. (Ok this was my first time white water rafting, but I’d seen movies, and these looked worse.) I glanced to my right to see how Hulk Hogan was doing. His muscles glistened from the wetness, brow furrowed for the task set before him. I scanned the surface for my Man Card… it had to be around here somewhere.
“Right!” the guide screamed so we could hear her shrill voice above the jet-like decibels of the rapids.
We went right and hit the gulley with such force I thought for sure we’d flip. Instead, we all screamed and got soaked and laughed and smiled…which quickly faded as we saw the next gulley only a micro-second away.
“Left!” she screamed. Too, and I’m sure of it, my muscles also glistened from the wetness and I engaged my pectorals, shoulders, and biceps to turn us to the left in which my commander had so desired.
“More left!” she bellowed. “What’s with this lady?”, I thought. I mean, we kinda, sorta, ever so gently tilted to the left, what more did she want?
We complied though the best we could and strained at the oars to go left.
“MORE… LEFT!” a syncopated, yet condescending, yet serious plea from our guide. I dug deep, borrowing energy from Thor to my right, and we hit the rapid just right at the very last second.
The rapids now behind us, we floated gently down the river to the extraction point. I scooped up my sopping wet and slightly mangled Man Card and waved goodbye to Rocky Balboa and our other boating friends.
Ever feel weak? Especially when comparing yourself to others? Ever feel like everyone else has their crap together but you don’t? Ever feel like someone else is prettier or more capable or more muscular or better able to deal with things? Ever feel like when your boss, family member, spouse or significant other barks an order at you, you just don’t feel like you can do it? Ever feel like no matter which way you turn, someone or something is yelling at you: “More left!”
I sure do. I self-admittedly suffer from imposter syndrome. Someone is always better than me. I feel I’ll never measure up. I’ll never write like they do, get as many likes, sell as many books, close as many deals, take so good of pictures. The rapids are fierce. More left!
What then, shall we do? Shall we give up? The rapids too forceful? Life too hard? Muscles too weak?
May it never be!
May we rise to the occasion, dig our oars deeper, try harder, be consistent, tilt ever so slightly to the left, knowing that it’s at least progress. We may not be as good as others in some areas, but we’re gifted in the purpose and talents God has given us. I may not have the perfect body type, but I can encourage a friend. I may not have a big platform, but I can make a difference in my family.
May we strengthen our resolve to move forward, conquer the rapids, live life to the full, and never give up.
May your strength get you through today, so that you may bless humanity with your purpose and tilt this world to the place it needs to be with your impact.
Life is hard, but you are tougher. These rapids can’t take you under. Stay the course. Fight forward. Make a difference.
We need your strength. We’re counting on you…